Behind the scenes: Marqeta in action

“What do you do?” is a question people who work for Marqeta sometimes struggle with. “I work at a payments company,” is an easy answer but it often leads to more questions. Explaining “we are an open API platform for card issuing” can instantly cause the eyes of friends and family members to glaze over.

The adage “show don’t tell” is one that journalists live by. Rather than try again to explain the complexities of payment processing to an ordinary person, the goal of our “Marqeta in action” video was to show how Marqeta is woven into our daily lives.

Nina Buster, who wrote the script, decided to focus on a single day in the life of one person — a photographer who was headed off to a shoot and needed a new lens for her camera. At the end of the day, the photographer, actress Dawn Livingston, treats herself to dinner via an app. It was a simple story, and one almost anyone can relate to. Still, the challenge remained: how to communicate all the work that software, servers, databases, and other infrastructure is doing behind the scenes? That’s where Jonathan Larson, Marqeta’s master of animation, came in.

Following are some excerpts from a conversation with Nina and Jonathan about how they were able to condense the complex technology of a global payments infrastructure platform into a short one-and-half-minute story and show what Marqeta and its employees do in a way that can be easily understood.

Jonathan: The main challenge was to craft a narrative that felt cohesive and effortless. We didn’t want to be too didactic about the processes that are happening to move money behind the scenes. Nina came up with a storyline that flowed from one scene to the next without feeling artificial or forced. Then, when it came down to explaining what was happening from a technical perspective, the challenge was to make it clear and accurate without too many graphics, but at the same time not misrepresent what the technology did. We had a couple of moments early on in the production of the video where I think we over simplified this in the spirit of story telling, and we ultimately found we needed to get deeper into the technology.

Nina: Our first approach was somewhat poetic. We tried to show ‘here’s what you see’ and ‘here’s what we see on our end.’ But when we tried to illustrate that, it didn’t capture the role we truly play and what our technology does in the moment, so we had to revisit it.

Jonathan: There’s a balance between trying to convey to a lay person what we do and being true to all the development that makes up the core of our platform. I was mindful of the people who are behind the platform — our engineers — and the complicated technology they have built. So there was a trade-off but I think we were able to walk that line.

Nina: When someone joins Marqeta they’re often told about DoorDash, which is one of the customers we power and a tangible example of a use case our software can enable. We wanted to bring more of those kinds of examples to life in the video. But there is a lot going on behind the scenes, which is also important.

What about some of the creative choices, like the setting and some of the transitions?

Nina: We had talked about having an urban setting, which can be anywhere. But for those of us who work at Marqeta, it’s clearly Oakland and San Francisco. We chose to show bike riding as a transition because it added a sense of energy to Dawn’s day.

Jonathan: We wanted to convey a sense of constant movement as an analogy for the digital movement that’s happening in parallel with Dawn’s experience but isn’t visible or easily represented. The bike riding was a great way to infuse actual movement and to underscore this was Dawn’s journey through a very busy day. I did have a problem with the fact that she isn’t wearing a helmet. It turns out we provisioned a bicycle, but not a helmet. So she is biking down Third Street in San Francisco, and I’m watching the footage, and I’m thinking ‘I would not do that.’

Talk about what got left on the cutting room floor?

Jonathan: We had two full sets of graphics. We wanted to diagram how money goes here and then it goes there, and then it goes here again. We tried that and it didn’t make sense. And then we tried it with a different set of players, and that still didn’t work. Finally we really pared it back. In the final version we rely to a degree on the viewer to fill in some of the complexity that isn’t explicitly spelled out. Ultimately, that’s how we achieved the balance we were seeking.